Gods & Kings ‘Fixes’ Civilization V (If You Think It Needed Fixing)

I appear to be one of a rare breed of person who, on the internet at least, is proud to have enjoyed civilisation V. I thought the shift to hexes and abandonment of unit “stacking” was the best thing the series had done in years, and while it wasn’t perfect – the AI could have done with some work – on the whole, I had a blast.

I, however, am not everyone. Many other long-time Civ fans don’t have time for the fifth game, with protests ranging from “it’s been dumbed down” to…”it’s been dumbed down”. They miss the religious aspect. They miss stuff like espionage. They miss, for some reason, unit stacking.

Well, Civ V’s first expansion, Gods & Kings, may not be able to help them with the stacking, but it sure can help with the first two.

While it adds new scenarios and a host of new rulers (each with their own new units and buildings), the real draw here are the fundamental changes and additions made to the game’s mechanics.

In addition to the game’s standard toolkit of diplomacy, culture and policies, two new (well, returning) features are back: religion and espionage.

Religion works a little differently than it used to. Players can, upon hitting a certain point, “found” a religion. From there they can rename it and assign certain perks to be gained from it, which can be added upon as you progress. Think of it as levelling-up a companion in an RPG and I wouldn’t say you were crazy.

Once founded, religions can be used as a complement to both culture and diplomacy, acting as a means by which you can exert added influence as a religion’s founder, sometimes a little more directly (as is the case with missionary units, who can forcibly convert rival cities).

It’s welcome, and adds that extra layer of complexity that many felt the core game was lacking, but…I didn’t find it particularly useful. It felt like it was almost giving me something extra to play with just for the sake of it, as the pros and cons it brought to diplomatic discussions tended to fade into insignificance compared to regular actions like expansion, war, denouncements, etc.

More practical, and enjoyable, is the game’s new espionage system. Where previous Civ games made spies an actual unit on the map, Civ V draws them back to the primary menu system. You gradually earn more spies as a game progresses, and each one can, through a series of commands, be assigned to competing civs (or your own cities to protect against technology theft).

What makes them so useful is the scope of actions they can perform. You can dig up dirt on rivals and share that with their rivals, creating impromptu alliances. You can spy on cities to the extent that you can see what another player is building. You can even dabble in the politics of the game’s city states, rigging elections and organising coups.

This addition, and the extra layer of intimacy it adds to diplomatic discussions, feels similar to what you’d find in a Total War game, or even, dare I say it, Assassin’s Creed (with its Assassin’s Guild missions). Which is a good thing. Other civilizations now feel more like true players, and the relationships you develop with them over the centuries seemed more lasting and involved. Less arbitrary than they used to be. You can really nurture and develop a friendship (or rivalry) through a variety of interactions, instead of just seeing everybody denounce you every 10 turns.

One final thing of interest: one of the included scenarios isn’t historical. It’s a fantasy game, one based on a steampunk universe and featuring fictional nations and characters, not to mention unique units like ironclads that chug along on land. It’s great.

So, yeah, if you liked the idea of civilisation V, but thought it was a little lacking in terms of complexity (or even the trappings of complexity), Gods & Kings is something you should take a look at. It doesn’t magically transform this into civilisation IV, but then, that would be silly. That’s what civilisation IV is for.

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